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Succession Planning: An Introduction

October 5, 2018

Succession planning

Organizations who struggle with succession planning often fall into one of these categories:

  1. They don’t do any succession planning.

  2. They make it so complex that no one wants to engage in the succession planning process.

  3. They are focusing on the wrong type of data.

It is also worth noting that some small to mid-sized organizations feel that succession planning is only for big companies, in which case they would fall into the first category above. Read more in the blog post, three reasons succession planning fails and what you can do about it.

So what is succession planning? It does not have to be a complex process. From my perspective, at its core, succession planning is the discussion of talent and proactive planning for the future. No more and no less. I think this is worth mentioning because many organizations do not discuss talent in an effective manner or they simply don’t do it unless they need to hire someone.

On the other hand, I have worked with some organizations who would say they don’t have a formal succession planning process, but they regularly discuss talent and have a good understanding of future needs. I would argue this is the best type of succession planning – where a formal process is not needed because the leaders are naturally, and effectively, doing this on a regular basis. Unfortunately, those organizations are the exception more than the rule. I do believe that the vast majority of organizations need some formality around this process to make sure it doesn’t get forgotten or overlooked. 

For a succession plan to be effective, stakeholders need to have a thorough understanding of the following:

  • The key positions within their organization

  • What talent they currently have

  • What talent they might need in the future

This first bullet point is worth clarifying: succession planning does not need to account for every single employee in the organization. Leaders and executives need to focus their time and attention on the most critical roles. Understanding these key points is only part of the equation – it’s equally important to actually put a formalized plan into place.   

The next question is typically, “Okay, so how do I do this?” For organizations who haven’t had a formal process in place previously, a program progression is a good approach. It starts with discussing talent in a formal way. This could be as simple as getting leaders and executives into a room to discuss what talent they have and what they might need in the future. This is really the starting point. Once talent is being discussed on a regular basis it can progress to include additional information. More specifically, it can include performance data, 360 data, and/or assessment data. 

Related: A Data-Driven Approach to Identifying High-Potential Talent

Regardless of the data that is collected and discussed, it’s important to remember that this is a talent discussion first and foremost. Some organizations can get caught up in all of the data they have, or don’t have, and have a hard time simply getting back to the core of discussing talent on a regular basis. I have seen instances where during the very first talent discussion the leaders realize they don’t really know what talent they have or what they need. That realization is a great place to start and can be the springboard for increased talent discussions and, eventually, a formalized succession plan.  

Stay tuned for more information about succession planning, including another blog that outlines the five key stages that every organization should use.

High Potentials: A Business Case for Identifying High Potentials

Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.